In this week's dead-tree edition, I profile Beulah co-founder Miles Kurosky's six-year journey -- from the end of that band to the eventual release of his solo album The Desert of Shallow Effects last week. Since I spent most of the piece explaining the ordeal of surgery and physical trauma that characterized the album's production, I wasn't able to fit in much of the unrelated stuff from the 20-minute conversation we had.
The full interview is presented here for your reading pleasure -- minus some chitchat about Nashville (dude is all about barbecue)--including his philosophies on letting kids see shows, complexity in music and whether or not he deserves his reputation as an asshole. You can catch him live on Monday (Mar. 22) at The Basement with Duqette Johnson. Check out the interview after the jump.
Nashville Cream: How're you doing?
Miles Kurosky: I'm all right, coming down with a cold, which is a bummer right before I leave for tour, but other than that I'm good.
NC: Is this the first time that you've been on tour since the last Beulah tour?
MK: Oh yeah, I haven't played a show. I haven't done anything. When Beulah broke up I had not intention of doing this ever again, actually.
NC: Really? What changed your mind?
MK: Well, I made a record [laughs]. I guess for some people [touring] is fun or for fun, but for me it's more like a marketing thing. You've got to go out and have people hear your music. Touring's tough, but when you sign to a record label, I'd be a bad person if I didn't support them after they supported me. So I've got to get our there and be like a snake oil salesman, you know? A Carney or something like that.
NC: You kinda make it sound like people aren't excited to see you play.
MK: I don't know, I hope so. I don't really know, I could be. I show up in some towns and there's just like a room full of crickets. I'm hoping that's not the case, but I usually go at everything with a good dose of pessimism. If I go in thinking things are going to be shit and they turn out a little better than that, I usually end up in a better mood, you know? But, I usually don't go in anything with high expectations, because you're only -- at least in my case -- you're usually let down.
NC: So, were you surprised by the amount of people asking you to play Beulah songs on this tour?
MK: Yeah! I though there was going to be like five.
NC: There's something like a hundred comments on that Facebook post now?
MK: I think there's 200 or something. I looked at them because I have to keep the vote going to see which ones are the most popular. Yeah, I am surprised. I'm surprised because Beulah's just kind of a funny band. Unusual in that they just keep on going. I don't know. Even after the demise, it still has some weird momentum, you know? People still finding out about them long after the fact, that sort of thing. I don't know why that is. I assume that when you break up, people just forget about you.
NC: Do you have an idea of what's most popular that you've seen from those comments and emails?
MK: "Emma Blowgun" and "Popular Mechanics," I think are the two most popular, which seems about right. "Popular Mechanics" was on The O.C., which made the one kind of popular. "Emma Blowgun" was just kinda fun and anthemic. But, the other ones get a lot of votes too.
NC: So, when did you actually start working on Desert of Shallow Effects?
MK: About a year after the break-up of Beulah. So, 2005-ish? I didn't actually start recording until 2006, I think.
NC: You had your first shoulder surgery before that, right?
MK: Mm-hm. I had my first surgery right after. I think one of my first surgeries was in 2004 and then I had another one in 2005, or maybe I had another ... I can't remember. But all of my surgeries for that were the year and a half to two years right after Beulah broke up and I couldn't play guitar for that time. So then I started in earnest. I was writing songs by a cappella or I'd do it with my guitar sorta standing up and I'd just sing songs in my head, then pick up the guitar and figure out the chords, you know? Or by piano, since with piano you don't have to lift up your arm. You kinda can keep your arm dangling. And the recording started in 2006.
NC: Aside from the mechanics of actually playing the music, how do you think that the medical issues you suffered affected the album?
MK: During the making of it, I had some intestinal issues that led to kidney problems, that sort of thing. In that regard, it made it really difficult. When you're in pain, you tend not to care about all those things. Music was the last thing on my mind a lot of the times. But I wanted to finish this record. I'd find moments in between when I wasn't in pain or in a bad mood or super high on Vicodin. I'd try to find moments where I was trying to make a record. I think it definitely was an obstacle, for sure.
NC: Because you were fairly incapacitated for the recording process, is that why you brought in so many musicians to back you up?
MK: No, I just like ... God, I read a review just recently. The wife likes pulling out the ones that are less than favorable because they make her upset. So, she sent it to me. I think what people, like this person in particular, don't understand is that's what I'm going for. I just can't imagine. ... One, I'm not replicating Beulah. Two, if anyone listens to Beulah, they'd notice I've never made the same record twice, you know what I mean? I purposely try to challenge myself on every record to not be the same person, and that's what I'm trying to do. In that regard, on this record, didn't even accomplish that. I wish I had more instruments. I want to write a rock symphony, but not in a traditional sense, not like Metallica beamed back via symphony. I want intricate parts. I want an indie-rock version of Duke Ellington or Sun Ra or Captain Beefheart. That intrigues me right now. Not going back and doing Yoko, which sort of looking down, or doing something really clean and nice with Coast or something super mid-fi like Heartstrings and Handsome Western States was only guitar and drums. The next record, if I'm to make a next record, it would just be a bunch of noise or something. That's all I wanted right then. I wanted all those sounds and it took all of those musicians to do it. I play some guitar on it, but it wasn't just a...
You know, it's funny, a lot of folks always ask, "Why do you ... ?" I've always gotten this question about Beulah, like, "Why the trumpets? Why the horns?" I always think that's weird. I think people should be asking all the shitty fucking indie bands out there, why do you only play guitar, bass and drums?" You know what I mean? Seriously, why do you only play these things? Why do you all want to sound like a bad version of Weezer or Pavement or whatever? Certain bands do it really well, it's weird that in the medium that we work with, it's only accepted to be a guitar, bass and drum band. I find that really odd, I don't understand why people don't investigate other instruments, there are so many out there in the world.
NC: I've noticed a lot of Brian Wilson comparisons between Beulah records and your solo records. Do you think that's apt?
MK: I guess. If I say yes, people will say, "What an egomaniac," you know what I mean? Obviously Brian Wilson is better than I am. I guess in the same sense that we both are reaching for the stars. He might actually get closer to a star than I do. I don't even leave the atmosphere, maybe not even the ground. But, yeah, I like complicated chord structures and complicated arrangements and stuff like that. I also love the idea of making synthetic walls of sound and things like that. Our writing's all different, obviously lyrically I'm nothing like Brian Wilson and he didn't write the lyrics on a lot of them. It's interesting, because Brian Wilson has never been really much of a hero of mine, you know? People always say Beach Boys or The Beatles and I'm a way bigger Beatles fan. I like so many things, but it's interesting that I got tagged with that since I only own like, I think one Beach Boys record and that's Pet Sounds.
NC: You mentioned lyrics. I read, in preparation for the interview, something you did with Prefix Magazine. It was a while ago, but you said that for this record you were trying to tell more stories with the lyrics. Do you think you followed through with that?
MK: I think so. There are certain ones that did well on it: "Housewives and Their Knives," "she planned her getaway on a sequence of cards" and blah blah blah. It kind of reads like a noirish little tale. When I wrote them out, some of them read almost like they were little vignettes or short stories or things like that. To me they do. There's always going to be, no matter what, a certain amount of ... I guess ... I don't know. Lyrics, to the writer, even though if they remain clear, they're going to be sort of esoteric to the listener. At the end of the day, even if I believe it was a story, what images or folks conjure up is going to happen. You know how it is; it's like seeing a color. I don't think we all see the exact hue of red when we look at the door. I guess it's with lyrics as well. The great thing about listeners is that you can always get the lyrics wrong. To this day, I don't know all of The Beatles' words, that I've been singing wrong for the last 20 years.
NC: You mentioned that you're interested in complex chord patterns and complex music in general; do you find it difficult to perform those very complex, very densely layered songs in a live setting?
MK: Yeah, incredibly. I'm talking to you from the practice space right now. We've been here for days trying to learn them. There's a couple of song that are just ridiculous. One song, I changed the key three times, you know? They're not all very happy with me right now. It's been really difficult; it's been incredibly difficult. It's taken us a really like time to get these. We practiced a couple Beulah songs and those were incredibly easy to do, like we got them right off the bat on the first take. We've been here for five days and we still haven't gotten them yet. Right now they're in this little recording studio in the back here, going over the stems from the Pro Tools sessions so they can figure out all their harmonies and parts. It's just ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.
NC: How many people are actually going out on tour with you?
MK: Just five. Five total, counting myself. We have to break it down in certain ways, certain things like "Oh, you play the horn line on your guitar and you play this on your piano." I don't have a the wherewithal financially to pull it off. We're playing a lot of small places. I mean, Nashville, we're playing Grimey's, so that's a tiny place. It's not like we're making a bunch of dough, so we have to do it more punk rock style.
NC: I always found it interesting watching the Beulah DVD and comparing it to the records -- because I was one of those Beulah fans that was too young to get into the shows -- and how different they sound but how you find similarities. Especially on the last song of Heartstrings that I'm completely blanking on.
MK: Oh, "Man on the Moon."
NC: Yeah, "Man on the Moon," which sounds completely different but has the same odd melody to it.
MK: Yeah, well I mean that's what a song is, you know what I mean? A song at the end of the day is just chords and melody and lyrics and stuff like that. I hope that the mark of a good song is that it still retains its essence if you play it on acoustic guitar, if you play it on didgeridoo, you know? You're old enough to see a show now though, huh?
NC: Yeah, I am.
MK: That's good. You weren't one of the kids who came out though, were you?
NC: No, no, I wanted to go, I really did. I wish I had thought about begging the band to let me in during the sound check. I didn't even think that was an option.
MK: We have this reputation, especially me -- which is all a myth and a lie, of being more of a hardass than I am. Actually, I'm kind of a big teddy bear. I feel for kids, man. I went through the same thing, I never got see a lot of my bands when they break up and stuff like that and it's always a bummer you know. Even on this tour, a lot of people have been asking, "Oh, I'm too young. I started listening to you when I was 13 and now I'm only 19, I still can't get in." I'm going to do the same thing for those kids in Nashville.
NC: I wish I had thought of that. I was at a coffee shop wearing a Beulah T-shirt and the barista said, "I was on the DVD, I was one of those kids that got in!"
MK: That's funny, I think the DVD -- it's funny you should mention -- besides, of course, empowering the myth that I'm an asshole [laughs], also a lot of kids have written me because they've seen that. So they know that they have a shot. So, they're all like, "I'm too young!" and I tell them "show up at 4 or 5 and we'll try to get you in real quick to see some songs and maybe I'll come outside on acoustic guitar and play a song or two.
NC: So, you're doing that on this tour?
MK: Yeah, I've already had a few people write me on this tour. I think there's at least four or five markets where I'm going to do that.
NC: I know if I were 17, I'd really appreciate that. Especially in Nashville, where it's hard to see live music when you're underage.
MK: Yeah, I mean, you have to do what you have to do. Beulah, just like me, we were all down to earth people so we understood it. We never were rock stars or anything like that that, we understood what everybody's coming to when they ask for that. At the end of the day, I think we have a sacred obligation to our listeners and our fans, you know what I mean? To try to be as humble as possible and to be good and put on great shows and all these sorts of things. It's all very important to us. It's important to me.